Photo: Jennifer Causey

Add a variety of these plants to your diet and you won't come up short on protein. Our picks are minimally processed and nutrient-packed, making them sustainable for you and the planet.

June 16, 2017

1. Tofu

Made from soy milk that has been coagulated and either curdled and pressed into blocks (similar to the process of cheesemaking) or left in its natural coagulated state to retain moisture (silken).

HOW IT'S SOLD
Located in the refrigerated produce section of most grocery stores and supermarkets, you'll find silken and block tofu in soft, firm, medium-firm, or extra-firm textures, depending on water content and density.

BEST USES
Silken: Requires delicate handling, as consistency is similar to poached egg whites. Use raw and blend into soups, smoothies, or creamy desserts.
Soft (block-style): Use to bulk up soups or stews, or blend into desserts.
Medium (block-style): Press/drain excess water before pan-searing or baking. Add to stir-fries, salads, or breakfast scrambles.
Firm/extra-firm (block-style): Press/drain excess water before pan-searing, baking, or grilling. Use in place of chicken, beef, or pork in almost any recipe.

NUTRITION HIGHLIGHTS
Rich in calcium because of the precipitating agent, calcium sulfate, used in the coagulating process. Protein in content ranges from about 4g in 3 ounces of silken tofu to 10g in 3 ounces of extra-firm block-style tofu.

2. Tempeh

Fermented soybeans packed into cakes; this tofu counterpart originated in Indonesia. Because the whole bean is used, tempeh is less processed than tofu and is a richer source of protein.

HOW IT'S SOLD
Located in the refrigerated produce section of most specialty markets, tempeh is sold in vacuum-sealed packs and is available in different flavor varieties, some with whole grains or flax seeds added.

BEST USES
Tempeh has a mild nutty flavor and firm texture. Crumble it up and use it in place lf ground meat, or cut it into slices or cubes to replace chicken, turkey, pork, or lamb.

NUTRITION HIGHLIGHTS
The fermentation process gives tempeh a probiotic boost and makes tempeh's zinc and iron more available for your body to use (by reducing a compound called phytate). Three ounces offers 16g protein (equal to 3 ounces of turkey breast meat) and 7g or 8g fiber, depending on variety. Tempeh is higher in magnesium and potassium than tofu and is a richer source of omega-3 fatty acids.

3. Pulses

Pulses (dried peas, beans, and lentils) are affordable, nutrient-packed, and have one of the lowest carbon footprints of any food. They rely less on chemical fertilizers due to their ability to recycle nutrients from the atmosphere back into the soil, making them a highly sustainable choice. Pulses provide up to 9g protein per 1/2 cup cooked, and although not a complete source of protein (due to inadequate quantities of some essential amino acids), they are also rich in fiber, iron, folate, potassium, and magnesium.

4. Whole Grains

Amaranth, quinoa, wheat berries, teff, bulgur, spelt, and kamut are rich sources of plant protein, boasting up to 6g per 1/2 cup cooked. Quinoa is technically a seed and is one of the few plant-based sources of complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids.

5. Nuts and Seeds

While nutrient compositions vary, nuts and seeds are rich sources of heart-healthy unsaturated fats, fiber, protein, essential vitamins and minerals, and a wide variety of key health-promoting compounds like carotenoids, polyphenols, and phytosterols. Hemp seeds triumph their seedy cousins with a whopping 9g protein per ounce (that's more than chicken, beef, or pork).

 Photo: Jennifer Causey
 Photo: Jennifer Causey

Our Favorite New Plant Products

The total market for plant-based foods not tops $5 billion in annual sales with a trajectory to keep soaring.

1. BURGERS
Hilary's Bean Burgers
- Whole grains and legumes lend hearty meatlike texture to tasty patties that are ready in minutes.

2. JACKFRUIT
Upton's Bar-B-Que Jackfruit
- A tree-borne fruit with a fiesty kick that resembles the texture and flavor of pulled pork.

3. MAYO
Sir Kensington's Fabanaise
- Made with aquafaba (chickpea liquid) to create a smooth sandwich upgrade.

4. RICOTTA
Kite Hill Ricotta
- Almond milk and cultures add sweet and salty overtones and a buttery, smooth finish.